Snoop Dogg once said that, “Without Rudy Ray Moore, there would be no Snoop Dogg.” Such is the case with Dolemite Is My Name. Without Rudy Ray Moore, there wouldn’t be the resurgence of Eddie Murphy’s career. The film, a comedic biopic that follows the rise of Rudy Ray Moore from a record store employee to the comedian and artist known to all as Dolemite, is Murphy at his comedic best.
Dolemite Is My Name hinges upon the go-getter, won’t take no for an answer attitude of Rudy Ray Moore (Eddie Murphy). After years spent wasting away working in a record store, Moore is tired of the life he leads. After all, he moved to Los Angeles to make something of himself. The film opens with Moore’s attempts to persuade a DJ (Snoop Dogg) to play his music, but to no avail. Inspired by the homeless man (Ron Cephas Jones) who tells stories about Dolemite, Moore refines those stories and turns them into a show-stopping, rhyming comedy act.
Much like Murphy, who employs the comedic talents of Craig Robinson, Tituss Burgess, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Keegan-Michael Key and others, Moore hires his friends to help him achieve more success. After his albums made him money and a household name, Moore realized that the only way to achieve true longevity in the entertainment business is by being in the movies. Dolemite Is My Name then spends the remaining hour of its two-hour runtime focused on the making of the film and it’s time well spent because that’s when the it really leans into its humor and heart.
The comedy plays to the fun outrageousness of the Dolemite movie scenes, which are recreated in joyous fashion. However, it’s the film’s ability to contain that zealousness that is perhaps what garners so many genuine laughs. Basically, it isn’t trying to be funny, it simply is. The film benefits not only from its crassness, but its heartfelt enthusiasm for the characters and story.
Dolemite Is My Name is able to sustain its tantalizing energy throughout, drawing you in, and pulling out all the stops to keep you enthralled. It’s a movie about a showman and so the entertainment value is high. But, even more than that, it’s a loving homage to Rudy Ray Moore, who did what he wanted to do and didn’t let anything or anybody stand in his way. Dolemite also showcases the strength of his support system, the friends who went with him on this adventure and helped turn his dreams into reality (even when they sometimes thought he was way too idealistic). In turn, Moore uplifted them, never diminishing their efforts, but rather works with them hand-in-hand, setting ego aside.
Yes, it’s entirely a film about Moore, but what is anyone’s success if not for the people who support you along the way? Moore’s big heart and ability to see talent in others where many wouldn’t is perhaps most evident when compared with the haughty Hollywood star, D’Urville Martin (Wesley Snipes). Martin is a “real” actor by comparison to Moore and his inexperienced entourage. Having appeared in Rosemary’s Baby, his name is well-known and even revered throughout the Black community.
So, when Moore asks him to co-star and direct his Dolemite film, Martin accepts, sure, but there’s a whole lot of ego that comes along with him. Whereas Moore elevates himself and, by extension, those working alongside him, Martin believes he’s too good for this flimsy, ridiculous movie, which is a hilarious amalgamation of comedy, sex, and kung fu. Beyond drawing intriguing comparisons with the way both he and Dolemite treat their respective crafts, Wesley Snipes brings his own exuberant humor to the role.
The primary conflict Dolemite faces is adversity in the face of rejection — rejection by a society that doesn’t value or see your talents, rejection by the streamlined Hollywood business model that won’t offer the same opportunities to Black people, and rejection by Moore’s father, who always told him he’d never make anything of himself. In the face of these hardships, Moore becomes the ultimate come-back king and his buoyant resiliency overrides the tragic nature the film could have easily fallen into. Instead, Dolemite’s deep-rooted issues with his father take a backseat to what he’s able to accomplish and the vibrancy with which he does it is truly a sight to behold.
Dolemite Is My Name is perhaps one of the most entertaining films of the year, understated in its humor, elevated by its sense of joy, and boasting spectacular performances by Murphy, who has honestly never been better, and the entire supporting cast. In many ways, Dolemite is an ode to two legends and the film ultimately pulls off a fitting tribute to both Moore and Murphy by banking on their greatest strengths as performers.